Thursday, April 3, 2008

Eastern Conference Playoff Chase

With the Avs firmly in a playoff spot, it's time to look at the Eastern Conference race.

Current Standings

1. Pittsburgh - 102 Points (1 Game Remaining) - X
2. Montreal - 100 Points (2 Games Remaining) - X
3. Carolina - 92 Points (1 Game Remaining)
4. New Jersey - 97 Points (2 Games Remaining) - X
5. New York Rangers - 93 Points (3 Games Remaining)
6. Ottawa - 92 Points (2 Games Remaining)
7. Boston - 92 Points (2 Games Remaining)
8. Philadelphia - 91 Points (2 Games Remaining)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
9. Washington - 90 Points (2 Games Remaining)
10. Buffalo - 88 Points (2 Games Remaining)
X = Clinched Playoff Spot

The big story in the East has really been the way Alex Ovechkin has put the Capitals on his back and carried them to within striking distance of a playoff spot. With a big win over Carolina, the Capitals are still in the division hunt. With a game tonight against Tampa Bay, it is very likely that the Caps will leap frog the Flyers for the eight spot and be in a tie for the 3rd spot with the Hurricanes.

The other team below that dotted line, the Sabres, are all but out of it. They'll need to win out to even have a chance to get in and then they need a lot of help. Considering their free agent losses and then the mid-season trade that sent Brian Campbell to San Jose, it's a miracle that they even got this far. Buffalo will probably be eliminated tonight against Montreal.

The Flyers, the team Washington and Buffalo are trying to catch, have been one of the streakiest teams all season. Losing as many games as ten in a row certainly didn't help a club who at one point was trying to challenge for first place in the conference. Philadelphia has two incredibly tough games to close out their season (New Jersey and Pittsburgh) and you have to figure they'll need at least three points out of those games.

The Bruins and Senators are as good as in. The Sens can clinch tonight with a win over Toronto while Boston is unlikely to be overtaken by the Flyers down the stretch.

There's an outside shot that the Rangers will overtake the Devils for fifth in the conference, but they would have to go 3-0 in their last three and hope New Jersey fails to capture 2/4 remaining points.

As I mentioned above, the Hurricanes are in grave danger of giving way to the Capitals in the Southeast Division. The Canes take on the Florida Panthers in their final game this season. The Panthers are 6-3-1 in their last 10, but the Hurricanes do have a 19-10-2 record against the Southeast Division.

The Canadiens and Penguins are in a race for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Even if the Habs win out, the Penguins would only need to pick up a point in their final game against the Flyers to clinch the top seed.

My Predictions

1. Pittsburgh (It's unlikely the Habs will win out and even if they do, Pittsburgh has a good chance to beat Philadelphia.)
2. Montreal (There's nobody to catch them in the Northeast Division.)
3. Carolina (The Canes can clinch with a win versus the Panthers or any Capitals regulation loss in the next two games.)
4. New Jersey (The only team that can catch them is New York and the Rangers aren't going undefeated. To be fair, the Devils won't go winless either.)
5. New York Rangers (With a game-in-hand and one more points than Ottawa, the Rangers should be able to take at least 2/4 from the Isles in a home-and-home series.)
6. Ottawa (They're going to beat Toronto which means Boston will have to take care of them in regulation on the 4th.)
7. Boston (If the Senators win tonight, Boston will have to beat them in regulation tomorrow and then beat Buffalo in the regular season finale. I can see them beating Buffalo, but not the Sens in regulation. Remember, Ottawa will just trap the whole game.)
8. Washington (They'll beat the Lightning tonight and then take care of the Panthers to end the season with 94 points and a playoff spot)
_______________________
9. Philadelphia (The inconsistency killed them and playing Martin Brodeur and Sidney Crosby is not a great way to finish a season.)
10. Buffalo (Will be elimnated tonight against Montreal.)

The 5-6-7 seeds could all change drastically. Ottawa plays Boston one more time this season while the Senators and Rangers are separated by just one point as of now. But that extra game will grealty benefit the Rangers.

If the Capitals get in, there's no doubt Alex Ovechkin is the MVP. There shouldn't be any doubt anyway, but that will clinch it.

Teams Who Can Clinch Tonight

*Pittsburgh will clinch the conference title with a Montreal Regulation Loss
*Carolina will clinch the division title with a Washington Regulation Loss
*New Jersey will clinch the 4th seed with a New York Rangers Loss
*New York Rangers will clinch a playoff spot with a Win or Washington Regulation Loss
*Ottawa will clinch a playoff spot with a Win or Washington Regulation Loss

Teams Who Can Be Elimnated Tonight

*Buffalo will be elimnated from contention with a Regulation Loss or Overtime Loss

Tonight's Key Games

New York Rangers vs New York Islanders

Rangers clinch with a win.

Washington Capitals vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Capitals should take advantage of a weak opponent and win this game. Look for a goal and assists from AO.

Ottawa Senators vs Toronto Maple Leafs

The Senators can clinch a spot with a win.

Buffalo Sabres vs Montreal Canadiens

The Sabres are playing for their playoff lives while the Habs want that top seed.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow, we'll go back to the Western Conference and take a look at where all the teams sit heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Key games tonight include Nashville-St. Louis, Calgary-Minnesota, Dallas-Phoenix, and Vancouver-Edmonton.

A big night for almost every team around the NHL! Should be a fun one.




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